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Gillard asks two scandal-tainted MPs to quit

April 29, 2012 14:54 IST

In a bid to rebuild the image of her Labor party, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Sunday asked her two scandal-tainted Members of Parliament, including the speaker of the Parliament, to quit the party.

Gillard asked Craig Thomson to quit the Labor Party until claims against him of misusing Health Services Union funds during his tenure as its national secretary were finally dealt with, Australian news agency AAP said.

Thomson subsequently suspended his party membership but will stay in the Parliament and continue to support the government from the crossbench.

Gillard also asked the Queensland independent MP Peter Slipper to extend his time away from the Speaker's chair until all the allegations against him - criminal and civil - are settled.

"Australians are looking at this parliament and at the moment they see a dark cloud over it," Gillard said adding  "I do believe a line has been crossed here and because a line has been crossed, I have acted."

She also confirmed that Slipper had agreed to extend his exile from the Speaker's chair.

"I have made a judgement call which I believe is right, because I want Australians to be able to look at the Parliament and respect the Parliament, and I believe a line had been crossed about the ability of Australians to confidently say that they had respect in our Parliament," she said.

Thomson agreed it was best he leave. He, however, said he will continue to support the Labor agenda. "Thomson's move will reduce Labor's official numbers in the lower house from 71 to 70 - less than the coalition's 71.

Meanwhile,  Slipper agreed to Gillard's request because he wants the dignity of the parliament upheld. "I reject the allegations which have been made against me and look forward to resuming my role in the chamber at a future time."

Slipper is under investigation over alleged use of Cabcharge vouchers and is also facing claims that he sexually harassed a male staffer.

Both the MPs have denied the allegations against them. Craig Thomson, the embattled member from Dobell, on the New South Wales central coast, has been under investigation by Fair Work Australia for nearly four years over allegations he used his Health Services Union credit card to pay for prostitutes.

Natasha Chaku in Melbourne